Is early morning, midday, or after dinner the best time to work out? The answer varies widely, based on individual preferences. But experts say some times of day are better than others for exercise – depending on whether your goal is to lose weight, build muscle, or boost cardiovascular fitness.
“The optimum time for a workout is specific to the individual,” fitness expert Robert Fletcher, member of the 1995 world champion U.S. kickboxing team, tells Newsmax Health. “Everyone is different. The optimal time to exercise factors in day to day activities, your energy level and what’s best for your schedule.
“Some people prefer to energize their day with an early morning workout, which many others would dread. Some people find after work or later at night is what works for them. Consider targeting a time and experiment with what works best for you,”
Although exercise preferences should guide decisions about when to hit the gym, new research published in the Journal Of Strength and Conditioning Research suggests most people would do well to avoid very early workouts or late-night routines.
In fact, the researchers found we tend to perform our best at exercise later in the day, with both strength and flexibility peaking later in the afternoon.
In addition perceived exertion – how hard you think your body is working – is lowest in the late afternoon. Scientists say this phenomenon can be traced back to our circadian rhythm, the body’s 24-hour clock. The circadian rhythm caused body temperature to rise throughout the day and peak in the late afternoon.
A common misconception is that exercising in the evening can impair sleep. Overall, that misconception doesn’t prove empirically sound. A small study of young adults in the Journal of Sleep Research found that exercising two hours before bedtime, even if the exercise was vigorous aerobically, did not impair their ability to fall asleep or sleep soundly.
An additional study conducted for the Journal of Sleep Research found older people who did low-impact aerobic workouts between 7 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. reported improved quality of sleep.
Early risers, don’t despair. Consistent early morning exercise can eliminate the morning performance gap. Researchers found that those who exercised consistently in the morning improved their performance to levels seen in the afternoon.
There’s also some evidence that “fasted cardio,” or working out on an empty stomach, can burn more fat.
Experts also say that if you have trouble with consistency, a morning exercise routine may be right for you.
“Research suggests in terms of performing a consistent exercise habit, individuals who exercise in the morning tend to do better,” Dr. Cedric Bryant, Ph.D., chief science officer with the American Council on Exercise in San Diego, tells Web MD.
“The thinking is that they get their exercise in before other time pressures interfere,” Bryant says. “I usually exercise at 6 a.m. because no matter how well-intentioned I am, if I don’t exercise in the morning, other things will squeeze it out.”
He recommends allowing more time to warm up if you exercise in the morning to allow your body temperature to rise.
Lara Carlson, associate professor of applied exercise science at University of New England, says that some studies show morning exercise is better if you’re looking to lose weight.
“For weight loss, it’s more controversial, but there’s research that has looked at people engaging in morning versus afternoon exercise, and those who exercise in the morning have lower blood pressure throughout the day and get better sleep,” she tells Web MD.
“Sleep is when your body repairs itself, and sleep also reduces stress, which may affect your weight – and I think future research will begin to tie the benefits of morning exercise together better.”
Everyone is different, so it’s important to find an exercise regime that works for you. It’s better to get a workout at a less-than-optimal time than no workout at all.
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